Archive for the ‘What Clients Want’ Category

Dear Danielle: Client Thinks He Shouldn’t Be Billed for Time on the Phone

Dear Danielle: Client Thinks He Shouldn’t Be Billed for Time on the Phone

Dear Danielle:

Do you bill your clients for time that you speak with them on the phone? I have a client who wants to have phone meetings twice a week. A phone meeting with him can run from 15 minutes to an hour. Yet, he feels that I should not bill for that time. Instead, I should only bill for the time that I am “actually doing work.” (His words…not mine.) —Anonymous by request

Warning, this may be a little ranty, lol

And just to be clear, it’s no way directed toward the person asking the question. I give them all the props in the world for having the courage to ask. That’s how we get help, by asking.

What gets my dander up is more about the ridiculous, ignorant information that continues to be spouted out by business morons that create this kind of thinking in clients and colleagues in the first place.

The idea that in this day and age people in our industry are still asking questions like this as if they need permission from anybody about what they’re allowed to do in their business tells me there’s still an insane amount of employee-mindset going on.

NEWSFLASH: Talking with clients IS part of the work.

When you talk with clients on the phone, that’s part of the service you’re providing to them. And you’re in business to be PAID for the service you provide.

You are expending business resources (your time) and that time comes at a cost to your business.

You are being a brainstorming partner and sounding board. You’re also presumably offering your own input, ideas, opinions, feedback and expertise in those conversations, which are aspects of the service and value your client is benefiting from.

So, um, yeah, you should be charging for that. And it’s not up to ANY client to dictate what you do or don’t charge for or how you charge. If he doesn’t want to pay for it, then he shouldn’t be given it. And if he doesn’t like that, he can go somewhere else.

Now, all that said, this question points out a few things that are going on in this person’s business that need to be addressed.

  1. This client sounds like he thinks you’re some kind of employee. That means YOU haven’t done a proper job of educating him before ever working together about the fact that you are an independent professional—ahem, a BUSINESS—providing a service and expertise, no different than if he were to hire an attorney or an accountant or a coach, etc. You have GOT to set your prospects and clients STRAIGHT about this right from the get-go (which means you have to get this straight first yourself). You are not an employee. Period. End of story. That’s not how business works. There is no such thing as a 1099 employee. When clients are operating under no delusions about this, they approach the relationship with a more appropriate professional demeanor and respect, and they expect to pay for services they are provided.
  2. You haven’t defined your policies and procedures and your boundaries and parameters thoroughly. This is really business planning 101, which makes me wonder if you’ve done any of that. If you haven’t, go back now and do that. It’s important if you want happy clients and a happy, profitable and long-lived business! How you bill; what you bill for; what is included in the service and what is not; how many phone calls a client is allowed each week; what time limit they get per call; whether or not phone calls are by appointment only and need to be scheduled or not; how regular communication is to be conducted (e.g., email only)… these are just some of the things you need to clarify in your business. And then put all that information in a Client Guide to be given to every new client at the start of the relationship. (By the way: Set-01 The Administrative Consultant Business Set-Up Success Kit in the ACA Success Store includes a New Client Welcome Kit guide and Client Guide template to help you get this sorted in your business.)
  3. The fact that this client is complaining about being charged for phone calls now tells me you did not properly inform him upfront, before working together, how things work in your business. Of course, when you haven’t set your policies and procedures in the first place, how can you inform them upfront, right? Which is why you have to get clear about them first (see #2). You want to eliminate any misunderstandings and surprises as much as possible because those all too frequently become relationship killers.

And while it’s not any client’s business to tell you how to run yours, this does point to several of the reasons I don’t advocate selling hours as a billing methodology:

  1. It puts your interests at odds with each other. You only make more money the more hours you charge, and clients don’t like what they view as being nickeled and dimed.
  2. If you work fast, you are penalized financially while clients are getting the value and benefit of that speed without paying for it.
  3. Everything becomes a transaction which becomes the focus instead of the results, goals and objectives that together you wish to achieve.

Learning how to price, package your support, and talk about fees with clients is an area of business education in and of itself—part art, part science. There is a way to make sure you are paid for the time and value of the service you provide to clients without using time as the measurement and without clients feeling like they are being nickeled and dimed.

I teach a methodology called Value-Based Pricing that unties your earning ability from the hands of the ticking clock, and brings you and the client’s interests back into alignment so you can begin working more truly together with the same goals, intentions and motivations.

The fantastic byproduct of this methodology is that clients never again complain about being charged for this or that because it’s all part of the package.

You can learn more about all that and get my Value-Based Pricing and Packaging self-study guide here >>. (Be sure and watch the video!)

If you have any questions about any of this, please post in the comments and I’m happy to keep the conversation going there.

Hope this helps! (And if you have your own question on a different topic for me, please feel free to submit it here.)

How Do You Overcome the “I Need a Person in the Office” Argument?

You don’t. 😉

You’re barking up the wrong tree.

That person wants and needs an employee. And that’s not what you are. You’re not a substitute employee.

Which is the second part of the problem. You are still thinking of yourself as—and trying to sell yourself in the context of being—an assistant.

Remember, when you are in business, for both legal and practical reasons, you are not anyone’s assistant.

I want to challenge you to think about what you do, what you are and what administrative support is, apart from and outside of the context of assistant.

When you do that, you realize that you are an independent professional (not an assistant) with a particular specialization and expertise to offer (administrative support) in the same way that an attorney is an expert in the law and an accountant is an expert in financial matters.

Once you raise your consciousness about that, you will begin to see and define your role differently, which will lead you to market differently, which will draw and attract an entirely different audience, one that’s not looking for temps or substitute employees, but an alternative to those things.

Marketing Isn’t About You

Marketing is not about you, it’s about your clients and prospects.

So if you are feeling like you are “bragging” too much, that’s a good sign you may be talking about yourself too much entirely.

Clients want to see their needs, interests, challenges, problems, pains and concerns reflected in your message and conversations.

They want to see that you get them, and in “getting” them, they feel that you have insight into how to solve those things for them.

Focus your marketing message not on you, but on what kind of difference you can and do make in your clients’ lives and businesses.

Which Category Do You Fall Into?

I was going through some old listserv messages the other day that I had saved for one reason or another and came across one where a Virtual Assistant was lamenting about possibly losing a client.

She had learned inadvertently that this client was seeking a new VA, and she was upset that she hadn’t been told about it directly.

She complained that she had bent over backward for this client, and the client hadn’t mentioned a word to her or given her any indication about being unhappy with her work.

While it is understandably upsetting when people aren’t upfront, I still couldn’t help but notice her poor writing skills.

She used the wrong spelling of certain words, didn’t punctuate her sentences properly, etc. It naturally made me wonder if this was any indication of her skill level and competence. Because if it was, it could explain the reason the client was seeking someone else.

Everything we do as administrative experts is a demonstration of our skill and competence (or lack of it, as the case may be).

Language and written communication skills are integral to everything we do. If you aren’t able to communicate clearly and coherently with clients in proper form, we can’t honestly be upset with them if that poor communication doesn’t inspire their confidence.

They want their work to be as professional as it can be. How can they trust that you can accomplish that if you don’t show them a command of the necessary language skills?

I don’t know if this was the case or not with this VA, but it did lead me to another thought… that there are basically two categories of people in our industry.

  1. There are those who take healthy pride in the administrative skills and talents they possess. They elevate their work to the level of craft, of art. They are able to apply abstract, critical thinking to not just do the work, but do it really, really well. Beautifully even.
  2. Then there are those who got into this industry because they heard it was a way to make some extra money. They sit passively waiting to be told what to do (sometimes even how to do it!), and are either unable or unwilling to exert any more effort or thought beyond the literal request.

Which category do you think provides more value for clients? Which creates more ease for them and inspires their trust and confidence?

Which do you fall into?

Dear Danielle: What About References?

Dear Danielle:

What do you think of prospective clients asking Administrative Consultants for references? –DE

I think when clients ask for references, they:

a) aren’t understanding the nature of the relationship, and/or

b) aren’t feeling the trust/competence/credibility that good demonstration of those things would give them.

Yes, we get irritated with some clients. Some clients are just looking for a free ride or intentionally trying to get what amounts to an under-the-table employee. I have no love for those types.

But other clients (I think probably the majority) are only misinformed because the industry at large is the one misinforming them and setting the wrong expectations.

I know we’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: the VA industry is still stuck in employee-mindset.

People, you have got to stop with all the references and comparisons to employees. All that is accomplishing is making clients think that you are some new kind of employee. Your job isn’t to replace employees. Some businesses and some workloads simply require an employee.

We, on the other hand, are business owners. As such, we should be representing a higher, more professional level of skill sets for clients who want greater expertise and who have administrative workloads that don’t require an employee.

You have to show and tell clients how to properly seek out a professional (not an employee). They don’t necessarily know how to do that. When the industry at large stops marketing like an employee and comparing itself to employees, those requests for references will go down considerably.

But here’s the other part of the issue… when clients ask for references, a lot of times it’s because they just aren’t getting what they need to trust that they’re hiring a pro, an administrative expert.

Where they get that is through your presentation of yourself and your business.

That means, you have to demonstrate skill, competence, legitimacy, credibility and qualification in all that you do… in the visual design and display of your website, in your marketing message, in your speaking and writing, everything.

Because when you do that, you are instilling in them the sense of those things. They don’t feel the need then to look or ask for additional “proof.”

So if you are getting lots of requests for references, it’s a signal that your presentation, your image, your message, etc., may not be up to snuff.

That’s a good time to go through all your content and marketing message and see where you might be losing them. You might even want to get the help of a pro to give you feedback on where you might be falling short and help beef things up.

As far as marketing goes, it’s always a great idea to have testimonials from current or former clients. Provide full names, pictures, urls and contact info if the client agrees to that.

Be sure and intentionally use and reinforce the term “testimonials” by the way. Very important. You want to steer clients away from confusing you in any way with an employee.

So if a client asks for references, you could say, “Oh, you mean testimonials? Of course!” and you can then steer them in the direction of the testimonials on your website.

The other thing you can do is have a more elaborate or in-depth sheet that you can provide to clients who are further along in your consultation process.

If they still want to talk to someone in person, all you need is one or two clients who are agreeable to giving out their contact info and then save that info only for the most serious of prospects.

Remember, the last thing you want to do is inconvenience any of your past or current clients with constant phone calls and emails from other would-be clients so dole that info out judiciously.

At the same time, I will tell you that if you are meeting all the other tests of credibility and demonstration of skill and competence in everything else you do, requests for further references and “proof” are going to be little to none.

In over 12 years of business, I cannot remember a time that I have ever been asked for references.

Why Setting Boundaries and Policies Is About Excellent Customer Service

Lots of folk like to think customer service is all about saying “yes” to anything and everything.

That’s a recipe for not only unhappy business ownership, but poor customer satisfaction as well.

If you’ve followed my writings for any length of time, you know I talk a lot about the importance of making sure you take care of your needs first in business; that you’re:

  • working with people you like;
  • doing work you love;
  • charging a profitable rate; and
  • getting paid on time and fairly for the value you provide.

Having those needs met is vitally important to service delivery. A miserable service provider will inevitably become surly and resentful, do sloppy work, drag their feet and miss deadlines.

That’s definitely not good for business, and makes for very unhappy customers.

Setting clear boundaries and policies sets the foundation for providing excellent customer service and creating a happy client experience.

A client who doesn’t know what the boundaries are is bound to step over a line they don’t even know exists.

Likewise, if the protocols and policies in your business haven’t been clearly outlined, you leave clients to decide on their own how your business works.

Invariably, this leads to them doing or expecting something that doesn’t jibe in some way with how you do things in your business.

And us being human, we end up getting irritated with these clients.

But why? They aren’t mind readers.

You have no business feeling frustrated with clients (which, by the way, they will sense no matter how well you think you are hiding it) if you haven’t clearly communicated your standards and boundaries, your policies and procedures and how things work in your business, and what expectations they may (and may not) have.

No one likes to step falteringly or feel their way forward in the dark. Your policies and procedures are the road map clients need to do business with you.

Clearly articulated policies put clients at ease because they then know how things will proceed. They know what to expect and when. In turn, they will feel more confident in you and find working with you easier and more pleasant.

The purpose of your policies and procedures is to create the optimum conditions that allow you to deliver on your service promises and create the very best client experience that you can.

Don’t hem and haw and expect people to read your mind. Tell clients what you need from them. Find out what they need and want. Then share with them the polices and standards you have set in your business that allow you to achieve those desired outcomes.

What Do Clients Want?


I can’t tell you how many times I hear from business owners how frustrated they are with Virtual Assistants who don’t “own” their role as the administrative experts.

If you are just sitting around waiting for clients to tell you what to do, you are nothing more than an employee.

Clients who are seeking Virtual Assistants, TRUE Virtual Assistants, don’t want an employee—they want an expert who not only competently executes work and manages projects, but also commands their own business.

Clients want and expect us as the Virtual Assistant administrative experts to guide them, to have some answers and to lead the way by their side toward instilling strong administrative foundations in their business.

I’ll share some comments I received most recently from a business owner:

“I have worked with Virtual Assistants for the past year, but I am not finding the perfect fit for both of us. I am definitely looking for someone who sees me as a client and partner, rather than a paycheck. I need a professional who has the entrepreneurial, pro-active leadership, but I have been attracting Virtual Assistants who still have an employee-follower mentality.

“I don’t mind a short learning curve, but I can’t do the hand-holding past Virtual Assistants have required. I need someone who can basically hit the ground running and start moving some tasks off my plate. Rather than me giving them a checklist and constantly following up to make sure the tasks are done within the deadlines, I would love someone who gives me a list of the things they need from me to get going and checks in to tell me tasks are completed.”

As the founder of the Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce, and a practicing Virtual Assistant, I hear this lament from business owners over and over.

Helping Virtual Assistants free themselves from the shackles of employee-mindset and lead them into true business ownership—and true service to clients—is one of the foremost goals of my organization.

I recently shared some of my best kept secrets to Virtual Assistant business ownership and success in my new guide, “Getting and Keeping Clients–The Plan.” (This is GDE-34 in our forms store.)

Getting and keeping clients is really all about knowing how to work with clients and manage expectations. In this guide, I provide you with meaty information and ideas for creating your “Red Carpet Treatment” plan, implementing a system for ramping up with new clients, and establishing your operational strategy that leads to profitability and client satisfaction.

Virtual Assistance is leaving adolescence and entering adulthood as a profession. Will you be left behind?